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Time to do the housework

Time to do the housework

Rising complaints have persuaded Sri Lankan officials to curb the number of housemaids in the Middle East

August 11, 2008 10:18 by

Sarah Abdullah

Sri Lanka is planning to reduce the number of maids employed in the Middle East due to the rising number of complaints received from them, reports Arab News, quoting media sources.
The announcement was made by Kingsley Ranawaka, chairman of the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment. The bureau said that in the first half of this year, it received a total of 3,400 complaints, including 577 cases of breach of contract and 479 cases of sexual abuse and other forms of physical violence, as well as complaints of unpaid or underpaid salaries.
As many as 500,000 maids work in Saudi Arabia at any time, says data published by the Sri Lankan Embassy in Riyadh. And according to recent reports, there are about 175,000 Sri Lankans in the UAE of which an estimated 55 per cent are employed as housemaids.
Earlier this year, it was also announced that Sri Lankan housemaids in UAE had to be paid at least Dh825 a month, up from Dh600.
Last year, the US-based Human Rights Watch rebuked Arab governments for not doing enough to eradicate the abuses against Sri Lankan domestic workers in the region. In its report, the body said that the domestic helpers typically work for 16 to 21 hours a day, without rest breaks or days off, for extremely low wages.
“Some domestic workers told Human Rights Watch how they were subjected to forced confinement, food deprivation, physical and verbal abuse, forced labour, and sexual harassment and rape by their employers,” it said.

Sri Lankan ambassador A.M. Marleen told Arab News that he hasn’t received any details of when or how the new plan to reduce the number of maids will be implemented, but added that the decision would be beneficial to the maids. Many workers often go into debt to pay the fees involved in going abroad to work, only to find their situations worsened by working in abusive environments, he said.
He also said that a decrease in the number of maids would increase their demand, allowing only upper-class and upper-middle-class families to afford them. This in turn would make way for better treatment, more reasonable salaries and a higher standard of living.
But what about the financial backlash for Sri Lanka, which relies heavily on worker remittances? Over the last five years foreign remittances in Sri Lanka doubled to $2.5m, higher than any of its major exports, such as textiles and tea.
According to Ranawaka, the foreign employment bureau wants to discourage women migrant workers and instead send more men to work abroad. He also said that the Sri Lankan government would also like to divest more of its workers from the Middle East region.
Last year 58 percent of the island’s remittances came from the Middle East, but apart from domestic workers, contributors included bankers, academics and other professionals as well, he said.
While 25 percent of remittances came from Europe, 8.4 percent was contributed from Singapore, Malaysia, Korea and Hong Kong. And North America accounted for 4.2 percent.
“Sri Lanka can always find jobs abroad for its domestic workers, whether in the Middle East or elsewhere. The important point of the reduction in Sri Lankan maids is that the ill-treatment must stop,” said Marleen.
What is interesting is that in Google Insight, the search engine’s new tracking technology, it was found that Sri Lanka came third in the list of countries where people were searching for ‘jobs in Dubai’.

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